The dance between sea and land
We’ve relied on Zoom and other interactive technologies out of necessity. They have pushed us forward in many ways and allowed us to stay connected to people beyond our quarantined isolation. For some, it has been life-saving.
We never really know when it is time to emerge from a period of darkness. We can seek counsel, try to plan for the exact moment and follow our intuition, but it is all a big unknown. We will never know if it is the right time to emerge until we actually try.
This past fall, after several thwarted attempts to launch our signature Senior Educators Cohort, we decided to move ahead with our first in-person program since the beginning of the pandemic. We had deliberated with health experts, consulted research and received advice from peer organizations. We surveyed our accepted participants to assess their comfort level with meeting in-person and, unanimously, they were ready to emerge. There was trepidation (rightfully so) and a steep learning curve around safety protocols, but we were able to create a sanitized sanctuary of beauty, learning and growth.
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In the Biblical story of Noah, God sends a flood to destroy the world. Noah gathers his most precious belongings and enters into the primordial ark to wait out the storm. On the ark is a tzohar, a window that allows him to gaze out and see the world drowning around him. (In our isolations, we have gazed out of our windows, too.)
When the waters subside, Noah is unsure when to emerge. He sends forth emissaries to field the uncertain future. Is the clear sky only temporary? Will the waters rise again? Is there solid ground on which to walk?
Eventually, Noah emerges. He needs to reenter the world in order to rebuild it.
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How and when do we know that it is time to set foot on solid ground?
Growth and development do not happen in silos or behind a window, whether literal or emotional. They happen in moments of uncertainty and stretching, and the only way to experience them is to go out there and try.
A Zoom screen is a window which allows us to see beyond our immediate surroundings and equips us with new freedoms. You can shut off your video and mute yourself to either deepen your experience or disconnect from it. In fact, delving into the Zoom room experience for a deeper connection takes a certain type of effort that’s a new evolutionary undertaking for most of us. Through facilitating online, we know firsthand that connection behind the windows is possible and the value of those communities is real and tangible. This knowledge made us re-evaluate our in-person experiences. In the same way that connection had to be forged on the online plane, we had a refined lens to think about the privilege and opportunity of our in-person seminars.
In-person though, that connection is inescapable; you are forced to interact with your surroundings and experiences whether you like it or not. Those experiential elements beyond yourself and beyond your window are ultimately what bring about deep learning and exploration. Gathering in-person allows for spontaneous conversation, the collision of multiple experiences and perspectives. We need to invite happenstance and improvisation into the room.
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When we met for our in-person SEC seminar, we didn’t just find solid ground; we sunk our toes into the sand and played songs with each other under the moon. We threw our heads back and laughed, joyous for this moment in time when we could safely dock the boat and disembark.
Like Noah’s emergence, at M²: The Institute for Experiential Education, we also had moments of trying to emerge too early and realizing that the timing wasn’t quite right. We have grown and developed behind the screen in ways that we didn’t think were possible. But there came a moment in time when we finally felt our call to start testing out the solid ground. We wanted to bring a community together to celebrate and mourn our losses, to learn and teach each other, to sing and walk, experiment, and embody learning in all its glory. And we knew that to mark our reentry, we would need to ritualize it, similar to Noah’s gratitude offering to God. With every transformation invariably comes a loss and the transformed-from must be recognized and attended to before the transformed-into can be fully relished.
Emerging is going to take time, and we may take steps backwards before we can leap forward. We expect that this new period will be a practice of carefully dancing back and forth between water and land. But we will continuously try to fight against our created silos, whether online or in-person, and preserve what it feels like to exchange ideas with another person at the speed of light and harmonize with others sitting beside us.
As we begin recruiting for our sixth Senior Educators Cohort and work towards creating professional development programs that are both safe and transformative, may we stay grounded in Levinas’ idea that a face-to-face encounter is an encounter with the divine. And may we also have grace for the periods in which we must look out of our respective windows, waiting for the dove to fly home clutching an olive leaf in its beak.
Mollie Andron is senior program director at M²: The Institute for Experiential Education. Andron is the lead facilitator of M²’s international flagship program, Senior Educators Cohort (SEC), which is now accepting applications for its sixth cohort.